The United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, in cooperation with the Federal Bar Associations of North Louisiana, Lafayette-Acadiana, and Central Louisiana, has approved a one-year Pilot Program to implement a Civil Pro Bono Panel. The one-year program began on January 1, 2019, pursuant to a Resolution adopted by the Judges of the Court, and has been extended through December 31, 2024.
During the operation of the Pilot Program, the Program Coordinator will compile a list of attorneys who are willing to undertake pro bono representation of pro se inmates in civil matters. Prospective pro bono attorneys will be included on a list of Panel members, from which appointments will be made by the assigned Magistrate Judges of the Court.
The Pilot Program will serve a number of important purposes. First, the provision of legal services to pro se inmates pursuing civil claims will assist this Court and justly and efficiently administering its docket. Second, operating the Pilot Program will provide the Court with valuable information about the usefulness and future viability of a permanent civil pro bono panel. And the Pilot Program will provide attorneys with an opportunity to gain valuable experience in federal litigation, up to and including participation in a jury trial.
The Pilot Program seeks licensed attorneys, admitted to practice and in good standing in the Western District, with current and adequate malpractice insurance, willing to represent pro se inmates in civil matters. Generally, these matters are civil rights claims brought by inmates under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging the conditions of confinement or the use of force.
Under the Pilot Program, pro bono assignments will be made only after dispositive motions have been resolved and the matter is likely to proceed to trial or settlement. Once a case is ready for trial, and the Program Coordinator determines that the case satisfies the parameters established by the Court which warrant assignment of pro bono counsel, the Court will send a request for pro bono representation to all Panel members. Panel members will be provided PACER access at no cost for a period of 30 days to review the pleadings in the subject case. If, after review of the case filings, a panel member wishes to volunteer to represent the pro se inmate in the subject case, the panel member should indicate his/her willingness to accept a pro bono assignment by replying to the Court via the link provided in the request for pro bono representation notification. The Magistrate Judge assigned to the matter will then appoint counsel from among the panel members expressing a willingness and interest in accepting the pro bono assignment.
The Court will make its video conferencing facilities available to any attorney who accepts an assignment for the purposes of facilitating attorney-client communications and trial preparation of witnesses.
Volunteer attorneys who accept pro bono assignments are eligible for reimbursement of costs and expenses in an amount up to $2,500, and for attorney's fees in an amount up to $2,500. Reimbursements will be made only upon motion and order by the Court. Additionally, 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides for an award of reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party.
Forms for the Motions and Orders supporting this program, including an application to be appointed to the Panel and requests for reimbursement, can be found at the links below.